– The Bruins are not hiding the fact that they are in a rut. They have lost two straight games and three of four and say they are struggling to find consistency in their game.
Coming off of a 3-1 loss in Philadelphia Saturday, the B’s face Buffalo tonight as they are trying to get their game back against a Sabres that has had their own trouble as of late, losing three straight games and sitting at 12th in the Eastern Conference.
However, while Buffalo may be in last place in the Northeast Division, they have taken two of three from the Bruins this season and have taken it to the B’s in the third period, where Buffalo has outscored their Northeast rivals 7-3 this season.
Despite their struggles, the Sabres are just three points out of a playoff spot, so the Bruins know they will be facing a team playing with plenty of urgency and fight.
“They've definitely got a lot to play for, they're going to come at us with their best,” said Milan Lucic, following this morning’s pregame skate. “So far this year, they've got the season series with two wins and one loss. We've always had a tough time with them, they always play us hard and play us tough.
“[Ryan] Miller's definitely been their best player against us this year, with the way that he's played. That's just going to make this a tough challenge here tonight.”
The Sabres' explosive offense has also given the B’s fits this season, with Thomas Vanek (three goals, two assists) leading the way. And though Buffalo’s leading scorer will be out of the lineup tonight because of an upper-body injury that has kept him out for two games already, the Bruins are aware the Sabres still have plenty of offensive threats.
“Oh yeah, they've got some dangerous players, tricky players," acknowledged Rich Peverley following morning skate. "You've got to be ready, they're pretty good at making little plays in around the net."
B’s Head Coach Claude Julien noted the fact that the Sabres match up well against his team, but said the Bruins still have to be confident that they will get back to playing their game.
“They have now for a little while,” said Julien, when asked about the Sabres having his team’s number. “They're always tough games here in Buffalo, and even at home. No matter where they are in the standings – we lost two games in the first, I think, 16 games or so, both losses in regulation were to the Buffalo Sabres."
The Bruins started the season 14-2-2 in their first 18 games, with the only two regulation losses coming to the Sabres.
“They're confident, I'm sure, going against us tonight, no matter what's happened to them," added Coach, on a Buffalo team that is not only without Vanek to injury, but recently saw defenseman Jordan Leopold traded to St. Louis and has had talk of "rebuilding" filtering through their locker room as of late.
But for Coach Julien, the focus is not on the Sabres, but on what his B's can do better moving forward.
"Right now, we have to be confident that we're going to find our game and that we’re going to turn things around.”
Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers wasn’t necessarily sure why his team has had so much success against the Bruins, but with his team battling for playoff positioning, he said they have to, once again, give Boston their best shot.
“I don't know. We always seem to get up for Boston,” Myers said. “They're a good team, they play really well together, they have really good speed. The position we're in in the standings, we're going to have to come out with a big effort tonight.”
For the Bruins, creating energy has been a problem during their recent slump, and tonight, the Black & Gold will be looking to establish some life right from the opening faceoff.
“I think we have to get into it early,” explained Milan Lucic. “Play in the offensive zone, establish that forecheck, get a hit, or have a big play – something like that to kind of jump-start the team. I think every guy has to focus on something they do well and bring that to the table to start the game.
“Hopefully it just keeps coming in waves and we can build that here tonight.”
Northeast Match-Up: The Sabres and Senators are the only two teams the Bruins face five times each this season, and tonight marks the fourth of five meetings for the two rivals and the final at First Niagara Center. The B's are 21-8-4 this season with a 10-6-2 record on the road, and an 8-4-1 record against Northeast Division foes.
Back-to-Backs: Boston concludes its fifth of six back-to-backs this season with the game today in Buffalo after yesterday's match-up with the Flyers. Heading into tonight, the B's currently hold a 4-1-0 mark in their first game and a 1-3-0 record in the second game of these sets.
Finding a Better Start: On Saturday in Philadelphia, the Bruins allowed the first two goals for the fourth straight game and although Nathan Horton scored in the third, they could not mount a comeback, and have picked up three of the possible eight points in those games. Eight times this season, the B's have fallen down 2-0 to start the game, and are now 3-2-3 in those contests. It's safe to say the Bruins will be looking for more jump in their game to start against the Sabres.
Faceoff Leaders: It's a simple notion - that winning faceoffs results in puck possession, which, in turn, allows better control of the game. The Bruins are best in the league on the faceoff dot, at 57.2 percent, with Patrice Bergeron leading the way with his NHL-best 61.6 winning percentage. After the first period in Philadelphia, No. 37 had a 57-percent success rate, but ended the game at 35%, going 0-for-4 against Brayden Schenn. The alternate captain doesn't enjoy getting beat on the dot, so that anomaly won't be showing up back on the stats sheet any time soon.
Outshooting Opponents: The B's yet again outshot their opponent on Saturday, putting up 34 shots on goal to Philly's 22, but ultimately fell, 3-1. Boston has outshot the opposition in all but seven games this season, with a 16-7-3 record in those games. The focus for today's game will be on getting quality scoring chances, and burying the puck when those opportunities do come. They keys? Driving the net, and jumping on rebounds.
---Eric Russo contributed to this report